In-House Counsel: 'Secret' Etiquette Tips

By Cristina Yu, Esq. on May 01, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

So you are in-house counsel. A lawyer among non-lawyers. Good manners are especially important for you because, given the grave respect -- even awe -- with which others view you, a slight discourtesy from you will be especially problematic.


Still, it never hurts to be polite. No one tries to be brusque or uncouth, but especially if we feel rushed or under pressure we can sometimes offend by violating rules we didn't even stop to consider. Here are some etiquette rules you might not even be aware of. Following them will only polish your already sophisticated image and smooth your way in the corporate environment.


Introduce the lower ranking person to the higher ranking person. For example, "Mr. President, may I introduce Mr. General Counsel." Introduce a person from your company to a person outside of it: "Ms. Outside Patent Counsel, may I present Mr. General Counsel." Some people are touchy about introductions. If you're afraid of getting it wrong, you can say "let's all introduce ourselves" and let them battle out the order of introductions.

At Table

Got a working breakfast ahead of you? Consider this: In general, don't start eating until your host picks up her fork or invites everyone to begin. In some circumstances, a grace will be said -- another reason to wait and avoid embarrassment.


Keep conversation general when possible. What that means is, if you're speaking in a group of people, steer the conversation away from topics that would necessarily exclude anyone. For example, the Rule Against Perpetuities, fascinating as it is, is best discussed when no non-lawyers are present.


Some people are more bothered by this than others, but in a work environment, is never classy. It doesn't show a person's individuality or courageous defiance of conventional norms. To some, swearing is merely disrespectful and only shows a lack of vocabulary and self-control.

Please Say Please

In some regions, saying "would you do this" is even more polite than saying "please do this." In others, you will be considered rude if you don't say please. It probably never hurts to throw in the "magic word." You can even double up by saying "would you please do this."

We Americans are a diverse lot. Unfortunately, some of us operate on -- and make judgments according to -- etiquette rules that we don't all know about. We are generally tolerant of our differences, but knowing some of these hidden rules can make in-house counsel's relationships within the company smoother and warmer.

Thank you for reading.

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